Irish musician Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains once told me “a visitor's first view of Dublin is unlikely to impress — it’s not New York or London. To understand Dublin, you have to weasel your way into the heart of the city by going to the pubs and restaurants, and seeing the theatre that is brilliant.
“Dublin has a buzz to it that is much more than the mere bustle of its people. You can smell the history here, and the scars of the 1916 rebellion against the British rule are still visible on many public buildings like the GPO and the Four Courts.”
For those of us from a sunny climate, Dublin’s weather can hinder that exploration. It’s certainly the only city where I’ve heeded a weather forecast stating “today will be fine and clear with occasional patches of sunshine”. It’s worth packing your umbrella and coat — and taking to the streets, anyway.
Grafton St, Dublin's main pedestrian thoroughfare, is the perfect place to get your shopping done (Image credit: Honey Cloverz / Shutterstock.com)
The one street that everyone ends up on is Grafton St, which runs from St Stephen’s Green towards Trinity College and the Liffey River. Now mainly a pedestrian mall, it is more for shopping than sightseeing. Across the river, the other main streets of Dublin – Henry St and O’Connell St – meet at the GPO, a grand Georgian building that served as the headquarters during the 1916 Easter Uprising.
Even if you have no Irish ancestry, every Australian should visit EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum that opened in 2016. It’s on the northern side of the river, not far from the Samuel Beckett Bridge. By clever use of technology, it connects the 70 million people around the world who have Irish roots, many of them Australian.
It also uses state-of-the-art video, images and sound to reveal the Irish who changed the world — not just through music and words but also through politics, sport, and science. I walked into one room to be greeted by former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating giving the Redfern speech, then found Sydney Swans’ Premiership player Tadhg Kennelly as one of the featured sportspeople.
The EPIC museum is a fantastically beautiful building to wander around in
You may consider yourself a bit old for university but go to the glorious grounds of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university, in any case. It’s opposite the Irish Houses of Parliament. Jonathan Swift studied here before becoming Dean Swift of St Patrick’s Cathedral and publishing Gulliver’s Travels in 1726. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula studied here, too.
Besides walking in the footsteps of history, visit the illuminated Book of Kells in the Old Library and marvel not just at its tiny size and the artwork of its script but also in the miracle of the book’s survival over twelve centuries.
For many visitors, a Dublin place of pilgrimage is the Guinness Brewery, more properly referred to as St James’s Gate Brewery. But few may be aware that this was the traditional starting point for Irish pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage — and you can still get your pilgrim’s passport stamped here.
Besides the pleasant smell of hops spreading across the neighbourhood before the resultant Guinness spreads across the world, the museum here, the Guinness Storehouse, is Dublin’s top tourist attraction. Other Guinness plants around the world have closed so whether you have a pint in London or Sydney, it’s likely to have come from here. The Storehouse is glass and shaped like a pint of Guinness. When you reach the top, you may have the pint included in your admission price.
The Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square is also worthwhile — whether to gather an understanding of the significance of Irish literature or to learn about its finer points. It’s particularly strong on Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, WB Yeats, and Samuel Beckett.
The Guinness brewery is an iconic location and truly worth a visit (Image credit: Anton Ivanov / Shutterstock.com)
Once you know the dates you’ll be in Dublin, it’s a good idea to see what will be playing at the Abbey Theatre, the national theatre of Ireland. Founded by WB Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, this is where JM Synge’s Playboy of the Western World was first staged and created riots on its opening night. It hosts talks and lectures as well as full theatrical productions. George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey, and — more recently — Brian Friel had plays open here.
What about the pub scene? It was a few years ago when I last had the chance to ask Paddy Moloney where a musician would recommend. His answer was clear.
“When I'm showing people around Dublin, I give them a choice of viewing the city's great collection of ancient Irish silver, or a tour of the royal pubs of the city. So far, they have all opted for the pubs, thank god.
“We start in Ryans of Park Gate Street up by Phoenix Park, then down to the Brazen Head in Wine Tavern Street – one of the oldest taverns in Europe. From here, we move to Mulligan's of Poolbeg Street by the Liffey, and onto the Stag's Head on Dame Court. For traditional music, you can't go past O’Donoghue's,” he said.
Whether you use Paddy’s list or create your own, his advice about the need to delve deep to fully enjoy Ireland and Dublin remains true. Spend a few days in Dublin and you may wish to never leave.
Irish hospitality really does begin at home. For lots of information, specifically for Australians heading to Ireland, visit Tourism Ireland.
Have you been to Dublin before? What was the highlight for you?